Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hill Training Interview - Inside Texas Running Magazine

I put this together in answer to some interview questions for a magazine a few weeks ago - I don't know if the article will ever be written but I thought I'd go ahead and put up this summary as I took the time to write it - I may edit it as I re-read it and think of other things.

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1. How long have you been a runner? What got you interested? Any background you want to provide here.

High School – first couple years I found in PE I had a bit of a knack for running by scoring ~6 minutes in the mile in the time-trials done on occasion in class which was pretty quick in PE. The High School Coach recruited me in my junior year into his training/racing program for cross country/track and I ran for him for 2 years. It was in a big high school that generally fared competitive due to what I believe was a pretty demanding coach and training program – coach taught me how to train pretty hard running somewhere between 80-100 mpw for much of that two years and I ended up climbing the ranks to about 3rd runner on the team with times like 4:28 for the Mile and 2:06 for the ½ mile – those were respectable good times – but not great and although I’d frequently place in events – especially track – I rarely (only once as I recall) won any races.

After High School I’d say life pretty much got in the way of running. I had a few short sporadic ventures into running. Typically I would just want to prove to myself I could run a 6 minute mile still so I’d run for a few weeks – do a time trial and get that – maybe hit a 5k or something then fade back into no running. Degreed (UCSD – Mechanical Engineer), Careered (Engineer for Shell Oil Company), Married (Lovely wife of almost 17 years now), Familied (Two great kids both teenagers now) and ~15+ years go by from high school and I decided to set my sights onto running again.

Perhaps some sort of mid-life thing or perhaps getting a bit bothered by the scale drifting up year by year or perhaps just a fluke thing I happen to carry on my life goals list year after year since High School but never got around to – at the beginning of October, ‘05 – 38 yrs old ~185 lbs - I went ahead and signed up for Houston Marathon ‘06 coming up in January without the slightest clue what it would take to get ready for that run – just 3 ½ months away and I recall struggling after that to finish my first 3 mile run.

2. Over the last couple years you've shown a lot of improvement. What do you attribute that to? Has your training changed a lot during that time?

First Marathon Training – to just finish:
My training has of course changed tremendously since that October ‘05 since I was starting from complete scratch. When I mentioned my goal to some others someone guided me to a Galloway method (Run/Walk 20min/5min) that I incorporated into my training to help be build up the mileage. Pretty much I ran 2 days a week with a few miles mid week and an ever-increasing long run on the weekend until a couple weeks before Houston – then I ran Houston. I was happy to have one or both of my kids with me on their bikes on nearly every weekend run I did – made for some great hang-out time with them. When I got to the race I way overestimated my abilities and did the typical first timer thing starting at a brisk pace steadily slowing mile by mile then adding shorter then later longer walk breaks after ½ way as I fatigued rapidly and finishing with the typical deathmarch to the end for the last several miles – but I finished and although I had visions of sub4 hrs that I missed by almost 30 minutes I was (in great pain but) ecstatic with the accomplishment of finishing my first marathon! I finished almost exactly at the midpoint of the field – half the runners in front of me and half behind me which I was quite proud of for my first time out.

I did another brief training cycle to the San Diego Marathon in June ‘06 training much like the first but ended up not finishing that race as I’d caught some bug pre-race and couldn’t push thru it but about ½ the race. Left a sour taste in me about the marathon.

Second Marathon Training – Major Step Change in Fitness:
Following September - I took the plunge and signed up for the Houston Marathon again this time with 4.5 months to train. Finishing had already been done and now it was time to see what I could really do. I had read everything I could put my hands on about training and found a couple approaches interesting – 1) Use a heartrate monitor to regulate the pace and 2) Run slow for a while (low heartrate) until an aerobic base is established.

I spent September running pretty much daily just a few miles most days with a longer run on the weekend but not letting my heartrate get too high which initially meant I had to keep slowing way down from beginning of the run to the end – I also focused on dropping some extra weight. Finally by the end of the month of September I was able to run a good distance to a steady pace without my heartrate increasing so it was time to move on to some other types of training I’d read.

From here I changed to a weekly Tempo, VO2max(Intervals), Longrun with easy days between continuing to use the heartrate monitor to guide me to run each workout at the right pace – maybe up to ~40 miles per week. It was an exciting time for me in running as week after week my paces would get faster and faster – sometimes dropping as much as 15-20 second per mile in a single week.

Somewhere in this period I happened across a book in the bookstore by Pete Pfitzinger called Advanced Marathoning and I stepped up my training a bit to align with the easiest training program in the book (12 weeks, 55 miles per week peak mileage) – still my favorite marathoning book that I refer to often.

Anyway – after my first tune-up race (Houston 1/2 marathon) I began to dream of Boston – I needed only to run the same speed as that first ½ marathon for a whole marathon and fib 3 days about my age (my 40th birthday brought an easier qualifying time but was 3 days too late) – and I qualified for the Boston Marathon – not a chance it could ever happen but I could always dream. Started getting plagued with knee pain so I backed off a little but decided to attempt to push thru the knee pain and run another ½ marathon in Austin in November. I put a compression sleeve on my knee and found I could run well enough and got about the same time on that ½ marathon. One more tune-up race – Sugarland 30k – an especially perfect running day down in the 40s and I pull out a mega-speed record for me maintained a 7 mpm average pace for that race. I ran to the same heartrate as the ½ marathons but all of a sudden - I was fast as lightning – I just love what cold weather does for me.

Boston went from an impossible dream to an easy goal without even the 3 day fib on my age. Finished up the training cycle – ran Houston Marathon (about 20 lbs lighter than I was in September) and scored a 3:10 – 5 minutes faster that what was needed (even without the little white lie) - and I was in for Boston – although I could barely walk after the race from the knee pain - I had been using that compression sleeve for most all runs since November).

I had a doctor checkout my knee. Per x-rays he said all thicknesses were where they were supposed to be and he suggested I stop using that sleeve – so all reservations removed - I signed up for Boston.

Boston Marathon – the perfect race.
I flipped a few pages in the Pfitzinger book to a workout plan that fit for multiple marathons close together and started training to get ready for Boston – without the sleeve. Knee pain went away pretty quickly (I think that sleeve was the real problem) and I was able to put in a respectable training program pretty much sticking to the plan from the book guided by the heartrate for the pace of each run. Mostly I stuck to the plan.

Somewhere in here in my constant search to learn more about running I fell into an on-line community of runners with a lot of passion and experience in marathoning on the Running Times Forum’s. Learned a ton from them and got caught up in the excitement of going to the Boston Marathon – I didn’t know any other marathoners so it was kinda nice to have virtual kin of sorts.

Boston was the race of dreams – major Noreaster Storm forecast to have high headwinds and freezing rain electrified the excitement of it for me – to run not just Boston but a historic Boston in the BIG STORM – what a thrill. Turned out to be an almost perfect weather day except for a little rain at the beginning and the headwind in parts which kept me back from achieving a sub3 hr but it was the most bestest feeling in the world to start out with a 5000 bib from the 5th corral and finish ~1000th place passing people from beginning to end especially the last part of that race from Heartbreak Hill to the Finish – I poured everything I had into that finish and it felt so wonderful to finish – a tear’d up moment like no words can describe.

I think that was a moment of change for me - running/racing went from a kinda phase I was going thru - a one-off knock out a goal - to more just an enriching way of life.

The Quest for Sub3 Hours
But – I didn’t get my sub3 hr – I made another quick shot at it at San Diego a couple months later but it was a little warm and I still didn’t get it which only helped to strengthen my resolve.

I made it into NYC marathon by lottery so that was the race to knock out the sub3 hour marathon. I became interested in Daniel’s Running Formula training programs but also liked the day by day set-up in Pfitzinger’s book so going to NYC I kinda tried to blend the training programs together substituting Pfitzinger Quality workouts for Daniels harder Quality workouts. Somehow in this blending process I ended up putting way too much focus on interval training. Daniels has it earlier in the training cycle and Pfitzinger has it later and I ended up doing both the earlier and the later not recognizing the differences. Although I think I should have been capable for about a 2:50 marathon at NYC I ended up getting a 2:56ish having peaked about a month too soon I think. Fun race and I knocked out my sub3 hr marathon so on balance I was happy. And I’d never been to New York before so that was quite an experience alone.

PR Marathon Race
After reflection of what went wrong for NYC – why was my peak a month too early – I recognized my mistake with all the interval workouts and resolved to cut them out all together going to Houston and just focus on Marathon Pace and Tempo type workouts along with long runs for my quality. I pretty much stopped really using a packaged workout program but stuck with maintaining the quality and quantity of mileage each week – maintaining somewhere around 70 miles per week as I had been mostly since San Diego.

Yet another race of dreams come with Houston – I thought the Boston experience could never be topped but the Houston Marathon came close if not topping it – I go back and forth on which was better. I go to Houston hoping to run a sub-Lance (Lance beat me at NYC with a 2:46 so I wanted to beat his time) – I think at the startline I might be just about capable to do that if everything felt right. And everything felt PERFECT lining up for that race – I felt physically and mentally at the highest peak possible – I was ready to race and I planned to take no prisoners and run an aggressive race from beginning to end. I ran it by heartrate not looking at my pace but running at a heartrate I believed I could sustain for a whole marathon. To my amazement as I passed each milemarker I heard the average pace yelled out to me faster than I could ever have dreamed I could run. In the end I ran a 2:40 marathon which I didn’t know until the very end of the race as I approached the finishline – I heard the pace at the mile splits but I refused to let my mind do the math to convert that to a finishing time – I knew it was going to be good but I was floored to see 2:40:xx ticking away – 3 steps after the finishline I had to let out a big “YESSSS”. Nothing I had in training – no tune-up race no training run had suggested even the possibility of anything better than 2:46ish. Then looking for my place in the race I was again floored to discover I had WON the Masters Prize in the race. Up to that point I never looked toward winning anything thinking I was just one of many fast runners in the area – not to mention out of the area – that ran Houston – to WIN Masters – that was a whole new level several floors above my wildest expectations.

Beat Lance:
In the afterglow of Houston - fearing this was a fluke that could never be repeated I raced a lot and a very different pattern in my racing emerged this year – I starting winning some little trinket for Age Group or Placing in every race of every distance I ran. I think I got 2 trinkets last year but now I’ve got a pile of them in the corner of my bathroom from every race this year (except Boston).

Unsure of the next great mountain to climb my radar locked onto the Boston Marathon again when I read an article that said Lance was going to be there – I wanted some payback for getting my a$$ kicked at NYC to him by over a mile. By the time I got to Boston I was hoping and expecting to beat Houston’s time but I messed up my fueling and ended up a couple minutes slower – but I beat Lance by over a mile so I got my payback (like he cares).

In Summary
It has been a trill to get back into running again and get in shape. I added my 9th marathon in June with a trip up to Anchorage – I think it was my best run race yet – not on the clock but it was a hard course. I have had the great pleasure to finish most of my marathons to the excited glee of my wife near each finish line with a big proud cheering smile (and an occasional fly-by kiss) and for a few races my kids also have been out there too beside her cheering – I love that kinda finish. She and the kids have been very supportive of this running lifestyle I’ve got and are my biggest fans.

I’ve tried a few different training methods that continue to evolve as I still have a lot to learn - I still consider myself a beginner or maybe I've graduated to intermediate runner. I have enjoyed learning the strategic aspects of marathoning (how to train, how to race, how to fuel/hydrate, etc) as much as the actual running itself. I think I have benefited considerably from being lucky enough not to get injured and being able to string together a relatively uninterrupted period of training to adapt my body to run the marathon (22 month now since Sept ‘06) to get the cumulative benefits.


3. What does your training consist of? Miles per week? Track work? Hills?


I run between 60 and 80 miles per week – all singles typically. Once cool weather comes I may try to push up the training mileage a bit more for a faster Houston if I can find the time. I run most every day at random times – early morning or lunch breaks or late at night some times – wherever I can fit it into the day. Family and work have to take priority and sometimes I just need sleep too but I love to run and can typically figure out a way to get a run in even on busy days.

A few random thoughts:
- I like fast finishes on long runs with the last several miles around marathon effort,
- recovery days I run slow and just enjoy the scenery,
- depending what particular aspect of running I’m working on I’ll make my quality days focus Tempo/MP like or more Interval like with progressive runs mixed in.
- I’m kinda making up my workouts plan as I go for now - right now I’m working on my speed so I’m focusing on 5k speed workouts for a few more weeks than I plan to focus on endurance and threshold so will increase my long runs and run more tempo paced running.
- I steal a lot of workouts from Daniels book the Elite plan although once in a while I can’t quite make it through some of those harder workouts.
- Also I try to incorporate a run a week with my local Running Club (Kingwood Fit) which I usually make an easy run day – it’s nice to run with others once in a while – they recruited me to be an Assistant Coach his year which should be fun.
- I don’t do much in the way of hills at all – they are nowhere to be found in Houston except maybe parking garages but that just seems weird – on occasion if I’m traveling I’ll go find a hilly run.
- I don’t stretch much unless I feel some tightness somewhere but I do use a foam roller, which I think helps reduce probability of injuries.
- I don’t do any cross training or strength training. The time I have to train pretty much I just run.

4. What are some of your goals in the near future and in the next couple years?

The most immediate goal is to knock out a 6 mpm pace in the marathon – the number just seems important to me (2:37:18). Could only run that fast for one mile pre-2005, then I could run a 5k that speed by Feb, ‘07, 10k by Nov ‘07, ½ marathon by Feb ‘08, now I want the marathon that speed hopefully by Nov ’08 or at least Jan ‘09. Beyond that I figure age is going to catch up to me within a couple years so I’m pushing hard to be all I can be as soon as possible. Once the PRs stop coming or take too much effort then I’ll probably switch my focus to something else – but I figure that’s still probably at least a couple years away – I hope.

I’d like to get down into the 2:30s on the marathon and if the stars all align absolutely perfect maybe even faster than that.

5. What races are on your immediate schedule?

San Antonio’s R&R marathon is on my radar – I’m sure I’ll have a couple tune-up races before that – then of course Houston again in January.

6. What are your PRs? Any distance you want to give here is fine.

PRs (not including High School)

Distance........PR..........Date...
Marathon ....2:40:46....1/08
1/2 Mar...... 1:18:11... 2/08
10k........... 35:11...... 3/08
5k............. 16:55 ......4/08
1 Mile .........4:53....... 6/08

7. What does running do for you?

That’s a really good question – right up there with the “Why do you run?”.

Usually I go with the quick answer when asked this like it keeps me healthy or it feeds my competitive drive or something like that because if I sound too existential than it just sounds weird. Health has been a very nice byproduct but has never been the real goal/drive for me. It really amounts to the same type of reasons people climb mountains or go after other dreams - hard to put that into words – you either just understand the drive or you don’t – there is something very fulfilling about reaching for then achieving things that seemed impossible – as it becomes possible I find myself looking for a bigger challenge – a bigger mountain to climb so to speak - searching for a way to repeat or even top that feeling of accomplishment.

John.

1 comment:

Todd Cambio, CSCS said...

I enjoyed reading your interview. You said you run basically for competitive reasons, which is great, I am train to stay competitive in what I do too. This brings me to my point, I find that with the runners I train, a few simple changes in their training makes them even better runners. Now you are an elite marathoner, I really would suggest looking into strength training - more specifically - interval strength training.

It will improve your running economy, your strength to hit hills harder and allow you to sprint faster and longer when needed. The added bonus is you will be able to lesson your weekly milage.

You said you don't have time to do things other than run, well this type of training can take as little as 4 minutes a couple days a week to start.

Anyways, just thought I would share that.

Todd Cambio, CSCS
Fitness Specialist